P is for Pig
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
My toes were introduced to me as piggies. Have you ever wondered why toes could be used as piggies? “This Little Piggy” came about in the 18th century. Then in the 20th century, George Harrison from The Beatles wrote the song “Piggies” to compare pigs to humans. George and many artists, writers, and storyellers have done that same comparison and could explain why so many folktales and fairy tales have pigs building houses, enjoying feasts, or any number of human-type things to do.
Then we have phrases like “when pigs fly” or “cast your pearls before swine” and on and on. Being such a common and animal that many people rely on for food—or companionship—the high number of sayings is unsurprising. During the Medieval times, pigs were associated with stupidity, filthiness, and gluttony.
In Ireland and Germany, pigs were a sign of prosperity. This meant there was more meat for the family and some to sell and gain more money. With this look at prosperity, it would be easy to think that piggy banks in the actual shape of pigs could be linked. However, some of the first piggy banks were made from a clay called “pyg” and that name transformed to piggy bank. Though, there are piggy banks from Indonesia and it is believed that pigs are connected to saving money.
Pigs could have supernatural power in Ireland. Pigs were thought to see the wind blowing, something invisible to all other people and creatures. If pigs gathered straw in their mouths, then a storm was coming. Perhaps Alexander Lloyd was influenced by this for his magical pig in “The Black Cauldron.”
Sailors saw the magic of a pig as dark magic. Sailors did not even want to say the word “pig” or sea or on land. Some people think it is because of a story in the Bible where Jesus sends legions of evil spirits into some swine and then the swine fall off the cliff and drown. “The Odyssey,” a famous Greek story features Circe the witch who transformed Olysseus’ crew into pigs.
Pigs could be dangerous. Hercules’ 4th Labor was to bring back Erymanthian Boar alive that was gouging people left and right. In Ancient Egypt, a black boar represented Set who was the god of misfortune. Set rivaled Horus, god of the sun. Sometimes swineherds were forbidden to enter temples. Also in Egypt, the sky goddess Nut was sometimes called the “celestial sow” because she gave birth to the stars every evening and then swallowed these stars by day.
The Celtic god of swine was Moccus, who watched over those who would hunt the wild boar with its tusks and temper. Later, bones of the swine were sometimes cremated, were placed in graves throughout Britain. Swine were honored and considered food of the immortals.
The Maori had a demigod Kama-pua’a who was half-pig and half-human. He was born that way and his father did not claim him when seeing this more-creature-than-human. Though Kama-pua’a then grew to be handsome and talented, he never was accepted by his father. Anger built in him and he marked his body with dark tattoos and wore a cloak made from pig skin with the hairy side out. His anger brought out more of his pig looks and the ugliness kept back love from Pele, goddess of fire.
Judaism and Islam both see pigs as unclean and dirty animals. As many goddesses of other faiths had signs or image in that of the pig, even the touch of a pig could be symbolic of mingling with other beliefs. The consumption of pork meat is forbidden.
Pagans ate the boar’s head as a protection against danger. As the tusks would have been a danger had the boar been alive, the tusks now become a ward against such fears. In Christianity, the pig is associated with Satan or as one of the seven deadly sins—gluttony. Knowing those pagan practices, some Christians ate the boar’s head to show that the Christ Child made it possible to overcome sin.
Some stories that feature a pig:
- “Ram and Pig Set Up House,” Norwegian, feel a lot like the Bremen town musicians where several animals set up house and can keep their home due to frightening away wolves
- “The Three Little Pigs,” English fairy tale (early version in “The Nursery Rhymes of England” by James Halliwell Phillipps published in 1886), three pigs make houses out of straw, sticks, and bricks-respectively-and must outwit or be eaten by a wolf
- “The Sheep and the Pig,” Aesop Fable, a pig is captured and carried while near a flock of sheep and the sheep ask the pig why he squeals so much and the pig reminds them that man captures sheep for their wool while man captures pigs for food
What stories do you know that feature a pig (or as many as three little pigs)? Boars? Swine? Please comment below and share this post with others.
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